Pre-teens will enjoy the musical numbers, but talk among themselves during the “dramatic” sections, in “Seeing Double,” first bigscreen outing by manufactured U.K. group S Club, promoter-producer Simon Fuller’s follow-up to the Spice Girls. Rapidly shot on a three-week sked — and looking like it — blow ‘n’throw pic parades the nubile sextet in a selection of chart hits wrapped around a dumb yarn about the group being cloned by an evil mastermind. Opening April 11 in Blighty on 395 screens, pic took a lackluster $531,000 the first weekend from its limited demographic, with most tyke auds seeming to favor “Jungle Book 2.” In the family entertainment stakes, film was clobbered by “Johnny English,” which hauled in a patriotic $5 million off 445 prints.
Back-of-a-coaster story finds the popsters, all playing themselves, looking forward to a rest after a European tour ending in Barcelona. However, manager Alistair Beresford (Joseph Adams) wants them to fly to L.A. the next morning to start advance publicity on a new album. When Alistair is kidnapped by goons sent by the nasty Victor (David Gant), the songsters oversleep and miss their flight; and, while waiting for Alistair to reappear, they see themselves on TV performing live in Los Angeles.
Huh? Turns out Victor, who inhabits a Moorish castle not far from the, uh, Hollywood sign, has cloned the group by buying their underwear on Internet sites. (Don’t even ask.) His dastardly scheme is to spawn a mass of celeb clones who’ll give him the respect he’s never gotten from the real stars.
After a brief stay in a Barcelona jail for trying to skip out on their hotel bill, the sextet jets off to L.A. Hiding out in a remote campsite, they follow the clones after a concert to a luxurious manse where the “popbots” (pop robots) undergo training.
Here, the plot becomes really complex: The S Clubbers kidnap three clones and substitute real Clubbers (Hannah, Rachel and Jon). While the latter discover the full awfulness of Victor’s scheme from the inside, the three other Clubbers (Jo, Bradley and Tina) locate Victor’s Eagle Peak lair high in the California hills.
After a lively enough start in Barcelona, pic starts to take on water in the fourth reel as the action moves to a scarcely believable West Coast setting. (Aside from establishing shots of the group driving through L.A., whole pic was shot in Catalonia, Spain.) With almost zero plot, interest between the musical numbers has to be sustained by the dialogue and the singers’ acting skills, both of which are rudimentary.
Script by Simon Fuller’s brother, Kim, who also co-wrote “Spice World” (1997), unwisely tries to squeeze a few laughs from making the cloning plot a commentary on manufactured pop groups. However, the jokes simply rebound: As the movie cross-cuts between the two mixed sextets, the biggest problem is remembering who are the clones and who are the real Clubbers, as there’s precious little difference between the two in terms of performances.
Little of this will matter to the film’s target audience, whom the filmmakers treat with a disdain bordering on the criminal. Perky blonde Hannah Spearitt (the Baby Spice of the group) shows the most energy and charm; Bradley McIntosh (the horny black kid), the most personality; and Jo O’Meara (the tough “Essex girl”), the most cojones. Sexpot Rachel Stevens, a cross between Jennifer Aniston and Posh Spice, makes little impression on the bigscreen.
Unlike “Spice World,” which was a classy production in comparison, “Seeing Double” mistakenly doesn’t ballast the movie with experienced thesps or celeb cameos, leaving the Clubbers to try and get yocks from a series of vaguely risque one-liners. Helmer Nigel Dick, who, like Kim Fuller, also worked on S Club’s TV series, directs on autopilot outside the musical segs. It’s worth remembering that the best pop-group pictures, from “A Hard Day’s Night” down, have been made by directors who were talented filmmakers in their own right.
Musical segs range from montages overlaid with songs (a shopping expedition in Barcelona) to reasonably well-staged numbers by the whole group (a prison breakout to “Don’t Stop Movin'”). Production values are generally cheap-looking and tech credits no better than functional, with unattractive, rather cold colors on print caught.